As teacher merit pay spreads, one noted voice cries, ‘It doesn’t work’

Merit pay for teachers, an idea kicked around for decades, is suddenly gaining traction.

Fervently promoted by Michelle A. Rhee when she was chancellor of the District’s public schools, the concept is picking up steam from a growing cadre of politicians who think one way to improve the country’s troubled schools is to give fat bonuses to good teachers.

The Obama administration has encouraged states to embrace merit pay, highlighting it as one step that states could take to compete for more than $4 billion in federal funds through the Race to the Top program. Indiana and Florida passed legislation that requires merit pay for teachers; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) announced a few weeks ago that he wants the same.

The most recent convert: New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I). “This is an idea whose time has come,” Bloomberg declared at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting last month. “I’m confident that if the teachers are allowed to decide the matter for themselves, they’ll support it in New York City just the way they did here in Washington, D.C.”

What if they’re all wrong?

Meet Daniel Pink, author of the 2009 bestseller “Drive.” He’s a former White House speechwriter, a student of social science, a highly sought-after lecturer and an influential voice when it comes to what motivates Americans in the workplace.

What does he think of merit pay for teachers?

“It doesn’t work.”

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This Daniel Pink TED talk from 2009 has more than 1,000,000 views on In it, Pink discusses how traditional incentives aren't effective in the modern workplace.